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Egyptian Air Defense During the Yom Kippur War

Prior to the beginning of the Yom Kippur War in Otctober of 1973, the Egyptian commander, Field Marshal Ismail Ali ordered his commanders and staff to study the lessons of the past combat experiences especially in the area of the use of air defense against the powerful Israeli Air Force. Ismail Ali recognized that the Israeli Air Force had achieved air superiority. The Israelis were using the F-4 Phantom and the A-4 Skyhawk, provided by the US. These aircraft were equipped with a dazzling array of sophisticated weaponry and electronics which defended them against Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs). The aircraft carried television guided bombs and thermal rockets. They also had state of the art radar jamming equipment, SAM evasion electronics and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) with which to defeat SAMs.

Ismail Ali determined that Egypt would have to establish a sophisticated, modernized air defense umbrella utilizing SAMs and anti-aircraft guns. The Egyptians installed an interlocking SAM system over the Suez Canal in order to protect their rear areas and airfields. The Egyptians learned their lessons well from the 1967 War. They updated their system from the SA-2 to the SA-3, SA-6 and the SA-7, all supplied by the Soviet Union. These were state of the art SAM systems in use by the Soviets. Additionally, SAM batteries were moved in echelon from Cairo to the Suez Canal, which would be the Line of Departure for the Arab assault forces. Moving the batteries forward progressively and slowly, enabled the Egyptians to build up their umbrella without the Israelis realizing it. By June 1970, there were four echelons of SAM batteries between the Egyptian capitol and the Suez.

The Egyptians planned to launch their offensive on a very broad front across the Suez, attempting to deny the Israelis the opportunity of using interior lines and preventing them from concentrating their firepower against a flank. The Egyptian high command ordered their troops to attack on a 170 kilometer front across the Suez. They planned to send unsupported infantry across the Canal and have them establish a bridgehead with a depth of ten to fifteen kilometers. Once bridges were built across the Suez, armor support would come across, reinforce the infantry, and allow the drive to continue into the Sinai. The Egyptians planned on using forward deployed Air Defense assets to protect exposed infantry from Israeli air attacks.

The Israelis greatest mistake prior to the 1973 War was that they underestimated the Egyptians. The Israelis had been proclaiming to the world for years that the Egyptian army was inefficient, unimaginative, and lacking in will to fight. The problem began when the Israelis believed their own propaganda. The Israelis relied on the Suez Canal to protect them from invasion, as well as a series of fortresses on the Sinai peninsula, thought to be invulnerable. On 6 October, 1973, the myth of Israeli invincibility was shattered. The Israeli Air Force flew 446 daytime sorties and 262 night missions. Because of the efficiency of the Egyptian AD umbrella, all missions failed to reach their targets. The accuracy and deadly effect of the AD system devastated the Israeli Air Force.

When the Israelis recognized the effect that the Egyptian AD was having they changed the prioritization of targetry to hitting enemy AD sites first before engaging other targets. Such operations are known as Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD). The Israelis put the lessons learned from the American air experience in Vietnam into place with respect to engaging targets and attempted to attack enemy SAM sites first. However, the Egyptians had anticipated this and deployed anti-aircraft guns around their SAM sites in order to protect them against low flying aircraft. These smaller weapons forced the Israelis to abandon their low altitude approaches and attack the SAM batteries from a higher altitude, exposing them to SAM fire. The Egyptians also showed a high degree of field expediency in protecting their SAM sites. They used fire barrels to attract thermal rockets and smoke screens to throw off the television guided rockets. In the face of primitive Arab methods, Western technology was sometimes rendered obsolete.

The Israelis also learned a hard lesson in radio security. During the opening phase of the war, the Israeli air commander broadcast an attack order to his pilots over a radio channel in the clear that was monitored by the Egyptians. As a result, the SAM batteries were waiting for the Israelis.

For intelligence officers, the lesson learned is that when analyzing an opposing force, we must be cognizant that our opponent will learn from their own mistakes and will change their methods as needed to compensate for our strengths. An opponent's capabilities are not static, they will attempt to overcome their own friction and mitigate our strengths. We cannot rely on our technological advantages as our opponents can and will use low tech methods to defeat or lessen our advantages. This means that our tactics must evolve. We must seek to determine how our opponents will change their strategies and provide this analysis to our commanders and decision makers.

Reference: Badri, H., Zohdy, M. & Magdoub, T. The Ramdan War, 1973. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1978.

   
   

 

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